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Fewer red lights? Sen. Mitt Romney drives home benefits of infrastructure bill.

Utah motorists also stand to gain more electric vehicle charging stations, but first the House needs to give the green light.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Carlos Braceras, Department of Transportation executive director, visits with Sen. Mitt Romney before touring the Utah Department of Transportation's Traffic Operations Center on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.

Sen. Mitt Romney said money from a federal infrastructure bill will repair thousands of miles of Utah’s deteriorating roads and reduce the amount of time motorists sit idling at stoplights.

Romney was on the bipartisan team that negotiated the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which the Senate passed earlier this month, and one of 19 Republican senators who voted to approve it.

If the House signs on, $2.7 billion would come to Utah to rehab its roads, bridges and highways over the course of five years. Millions more would build up the state’s water systems and help fight threats like wildfires and drought.

At a news conference Thursday after a tour of the Utah Department of Transportation’s Traffic Operations Center, Romney highlighted the state’s need for the funds to improve roads alone.

“Not only to improve the system we already have,” the senator said, “[but] to make sure we have the system we’ll need, given the growth of our state over the coming decades.”

Utah has more than 2,000 miles of roads in dire need of repair, the senator’s office reported, and 62 bridges that are structurally deficient.

Romney also touted his Smart Intersections Act, which he managed to fold into the broader infrastructure measure. It provides funding for state departments of transportation and local governments to replace old traffic lights and install technology that creates “smarter intersections.”

“Where people are able to see green lights as often as possible,” Romney said, “and wait at red lights unnecessarily as infrequently as possible.”

Beyond roads, the infrastructure bill would bring millions in water project funds to the Beehive State, including $50 million for the Central Utah Project and $214 million to install running water systems in the Navajo Nation.

“[There’s] funding to expand broadband throughout rural Utah, transit dollars as well, Romney said. “It’s hard infrastructure only in our bill.”

But “hard infrastructure” means more asphalt and concrete. Those materials create and release a lot of pollution, which is accelerating as the planet warms. Scientists have warned that humans need to drastically reduce emissions worldwide over the next decade to curb the most devastating and deadly impacts of climate change.

With that in mind, Romney noted aspects of the infrastructure bill that are meant to address the warming world.

“We have several major projects in the energy sector,” the freshman senator said, “which are designed to get us out of fossil fuels and allow us to use new sources of fuel.”

He noted billions set aside to invest nationwide in alternative fuels, like hydrogen and nuclear energy. Another $7.5 billion would build out an electric vehicle and alternative fuel charging network throughout the nation.

Romney did not appear, however, to support incentives to drive Utahns away from their dependence on personal vehicles.

“The truth is, I’d rather have more money going into roads and bridges, and a little less in [mass] transit,” he said. “... I’d prefer to have less going into rail. [But] President [Joe] Biden really cares about rail.”

He added that he favored a per-mile tax for electric vehicles so those drivers paid the same for road maintenance as gas cars but said zero increases in fees was a “red line” for the president.

“The nature of bipartisanship,” Romney said, “is that each side has to be satisfied.”

As the infrastructure measure awaits House approval, Utah’s Republican congressman have signaled they will vote against it. Romney said he has reached out to those members and tried to persuade them to give it a green light, conceding that the legislation “isn’t perfect.”

“I’ve pointed out to my Republican colleagues that they need to vote for this,” Romney said, “because if they don’t, the Democrats, given their majority in both houses, can do something on their own without any help from us. What they do on their own will be a heck of a lot worse.”

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